Danny Trejo & Wilmer Valderrama on How Robert Rodriguez Is Leading a Latino Filmmaking Movement

The NALIP Media Summit just keeps layering on the star power. Raquel Welch, Eva Longoria, Dascha Polanco, Eugenio Derbez: who will they think of next? But we’re not talking about red carpets, fancy dresses, and generic press junket-type of star power. No, we’re talking about the most influential Latino movers and shakers of the 21st-century media landscape coming together in L.A. last weekend to figure out how we can continue to empower our stories.

It’s an essential conversation for 2015, especially now that Hollywood and the major networks have begun aggressively courting the coveted “Latino demographic.” Indeed, since the 2010 census Latinos have become a sort of holy grail for media execs desperate to maintain their market share into the foreseeable future. But don’t be mistaken: our representation on the big and small screens is not a question of moral imperative, but rather a function of our spending power. That’s just how mainstream American media works.

Cast and Crew of ‘From Dusk Till Dawn’
Read more

So, while we can certainly expect to see a growing number symbolic bones thrown to the Latino audience over the coming years, it’s still going to take a lot of work to ensure that the complexity of our experience is represented; and that Latino writers, actors, and producers are the ones doing the representing.

The latest panel brought together by the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) took a lot of these issues head-on, and it just happened to feature the voices of modern Latino trailblazers like Danny Trejo, Wilmer Valderrama, and writer-producer Carlos Coto, all three of whom are the driving forces behind El Rey Network’s flagship series From Dusk Till Dawn.

Naturally, much of the conversation revolved around El Rey exec Robert Rodriguez, and rightfully so. By unceremoniously showcasing the talents of Latino writers, directors, and actors, Rodriguez’s El Rey has proven to be on the cutting edge of the cultural transformations taking place across the U.S., and it’s own way will undoubtedly be a model for the future of American television. Meantime, there’s a lot of frank conversations to be had. So here’s a handful of tasty quotes to get that hamster wheel in your brain a spinnin’.

Danny Trejo on Reaching General Audiences and Staying at the Four Seasons Hotel

Robert’s at the forefront of any movement that Latinos are making in film. He’s unbelievable. He just keeps turning out movies that everybody likes. I have yet to see him make a Latino film. He does films for everybody with everybody in them. He just has a Latino cast… So when he told me, “Hey come and do something.” I’m like, “Hey, I’m in! Where do I show up?” I’m a little mad he didn’t keep me at the Four Seasons though…

Wilmer Valderrama on Driving the Story

We’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. To see strong Latin characters in the same scene together driving a story. We’ve seen Latino characters in a scene before, but we’ve never seen them actually be part of the weight of an entire arc. And to see all those Latinos in the same scene together, to me, I think is revolutionary.

Wilmer Valderrama on Speaking with vs. Speaking at Latino Audiences

I think that Robert and Carlos and the entire writing staff have done a fantastic job of honoring the culture, but in a way that is so mainstream, in a way that is so effortless. You’re going to see a lot of networks this year, you’re going to see a lot of shows that are going to try to fill a quota, because right now we are a priority. The Latino audience is a priority to get, but nobody is really speaking with us. They’re speaking at us. And that’s the mistake that most networks make when they make content and they go, “Why are Latinos not watching? We have a Latino in the scene!” And that’s not really what it’s about.

Carlos Coto on Ripping Off the Mayans and the Aztecs

Mesoamerican mythology is a deep part of the show from last season, and it’s something that we use. I always tell people: The most liberating thing about doing the show is that we don’t have to use Tolkein and the Bible. They don’t make me rip off the stuff that they always rip off. I just came to Rob and said, “We’re gonna do all this Mayan and Aztec stuff, we’re going to twist it and make it our own.” And he’s like, “Great, let’s do it! That’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”

Danny Trejo on the People Who Got Us Where We are Today

It’s changed so much. I can remember in 1995, when we did Desperado, people don’t know it but the studios didn’t really want Salma. They were saying, “Her accent is way too thick.” And one of the sexiest things in the movie was her accent. I think Robert almost refused to do [the film]. So he got Salma. And then they were saying that Antonio couldn’t even speak English, that he could barely speak English, and again he fought. And it’s guys like [Robert Rodriguez] who got us here today.

The National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) advances the development of Latino content creators through its programs like the 2015 NALIP Media Summit focusing on narrative, documentary, TV, and digital formats.